MedWatch Today: Coping with the Loss of a Baby, Bereavement Support for Patients

Med Watch Today

The loss of a baby is incredibly painful for any family. A stillbirth is the loss of a baby before or during delivery. One local couple experienced what no parent ever wants to endure. Here is their story of how a nurse navigator helped them through one of the most difficult moments of their lives.

Nurse Julie Christopherson has a special bond with the Thompson family. She is the aunt of Kayleigh Thompson. She helped deliver Kayleigh, and was even present when Kayleigh gave birth to her first child two years ago. Julie has since moved on from being a nurse on the floor, and is now a Nurse Navigator for Perinatal Care and Bereavement at Community Medical Centers. She works with patients whose babies have a genetic diagnosis, or a patient who experiences a loss, like a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Julie never thought she’d be helping Kayleigh like she did recently. Earlier this year, Kayleigh and her husband Dylan found out they were expecting their second child. They were thrilled.

“I did the genetic testing, and it was between 15 and 16 weeks they gave me a call saying my AFP levels were high, so they wanted me to come in and do an ultrasound just to see why that would be,” said Kayleigh.

Their world came to a standstill when they found out their boy inside, who they had named Oliver, had spina bifida.

Kayleigh stated, “It was difficult at first to find out that we had a child that may have some difficulties in life from his spina bifida, but ultimately we were still just really excited to still get to have another baby.”

Spina bifida is a neural tube defect, where the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly. It can cause physical and intellectual disabilities that range from mild to severe. The Thompsons were ready to take on the role of raising a child with disabilities. But suddenly, Kayleigh stopped feeling Oliver’s movement inside.

Kayleigh continued, “I texted Julie on the way to the hospital, and I was like, ‘Hey we’re coming in just to let you know, I don’t feel him kicking’. She met me up in the triage area of the labor and delivery and she put the monitor on my belly and there wasn’t a heartbeat, and that was pretty heartbreaking.”

An ultrasound confirmed, Oliver was gone.

Kayleigh’s husband Dylan added, “It was probably the most painful emotional experience I’ve ever had to go through.”

Julie said, “I myself went through losing a stillborn baby 24 years ago, so there’s some common experience that helps me. And I feel like I can help them by knowing the things that helped me.”

Julie stepped in to help the Thompsons as they prepared to give birth to their child who was no longer alive.

“There’s a lot we’ve learned about stillborn babies and babies that aren’t going to live for very long after they’re born. And we try to help parents create as many memories in the short time that they’ve got, because we know once they leave the hospital, their time to bond with their baby is done,” said Julie.

Both Kayleigh and Dylan reflect back on the day they saw Oliver for the first and last time.

Dylan said, “For me, the hardest part was right after he was born, just the silence. The silence of seeing your baby come out and not hearing the cries or anything. It tears at you.”

Kayleigh added, “When I think about the day that I delivered Oliver and our experience with getting to have him at the hospital, I don’t look back on it as a bleak experience, but more of just like a sweet memory of the only time that I got to be with my child. And that really was thanks to the hospital staff, but mostly thanks to Julie.”

Julie helped the Thompson’s create lasting memories with Oliver, including taking pictures and marking his footprints. She also guided them, as she does with similar patients, to figure out funeral arrangements and the next steps towards healing.

“Probably the most important thing I try to instill in them is hope… healing will come as I think that families just need to know that it will not be like this forever,” stated Julie.

“I don’t know how we would’ve gone through this without Julie,” ended Kayleigh. “I think it would’ve been a near impossible experience, but to have her there and to have her as a resource through this all has been, I mean, I can’t even express how grateful I am to have her.”

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